The Turkish government has revealed the latest number of Syrians living in the country, including more than a million children.
According to Atay Uslu, the chairman of the Immigration and Integration Sub-committee of Human Rights Commission in the Turkish Parliament, said the number of Syrians who have sought protection in Turkey was now 3,657, 000.
According to a Wednesday news report by T24, an online news portal, Uslu said: “It is a myth [among society] that Syrians and asylum seekers have been committing crimes. It does not reflect reality. We see that only 3 percent of all crimes in the country were committed by the Syrians.”
Uslu said the AKP government does not pay off Syrians but supports them for their living. He argued they approached the Syrians from a humanitarian perspective, as they suffer from severe trauma, adding immigration is not something to be done voluntarily.
All Syrians seeking protection in Turkey are covered by the temporary protection regime. The regime enshrines a range of rights, services, and assistance for the beneficiaries, including, right to stay in Turkey until a more permanent solution is found, protection against forcible returns to Syria, access to health, education, social assistance, psychological support and access to the labor market.
Another official remark regarding the Syrian refugees came on Tuesday from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who said he believed the number of Syrians returning to their homeland would reach one million once a safe zone is established in northeast Syria along the shared border.
“We are trying to extend the safe zones along our borders as much as we can for the Syrian refugees in our country to be able to return home. Now, 330,000 people have returned, but I believe when the problems in Manbij and the east of Euphrates are resolved, this will reach one million very quickly,” Erdogan said, speaking to the AKP lawmakers during the parliamentary group meeting.
Turkey has negotiated the safe zone issue with the United States which backs the People’s Protection Units (YPG) in the area, an ally in defeating Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria.
Syrian refugees started to arrive in Turkey in 2011 when a civil war broke out in their country.
Over the years, Turkish society has gradually viewed the Syrian refugee issue as a political and economic matter rather than a humanitarian one. Many Turkish citizens see the Syrians’ presence as the main cause of unemployment and high rents in the country. Further, they are viewed as the source of crimes or even of diseases, and terrorists disguised as refugees.
Such prejudices and disinformation about the Syrians spread among public notably through social media, fuelling anti-immigration far-right rhetoric, according to a report by Middle East Eye which quoted Akin Unver, an associate professor of international relations at Kadir Has University and research associate at Oxford University’s Centre for Technology and Global Affairs, as saying.
On Sunday, Ekrem Imamoglu from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) won the mayorship for the second time in three months, after the first one on March 31 was annulled at the request of AKP by the Supreme Electoral Council (YSK).
During the March 31 and the June 23 local polls in the country, both AKP and CHP has capitalized on anti-Syrian sentiments.
During the election campaign, Binali Yildirim, AKP’s Istanbul mayoral candidate said: “Istanbulites should know Syrians are not here to stay. We will not allow them to engage in illegal activities while here. Zero tolerance. We will grab them by their ears and throw them out,” and former prime minister, during an election rally.
“We will get rid of the Syrians. There is peace in Syria, so what are they doing here? There are shops with signboards with the Syrian [Arabic] language. They will be taken away from here,” said Ridvan Karakayli, a CHP mayor in Kemalpasa district of the western province of Izmir, in a televised interview.
Fake news fuelling hate against Syrians
There are certain categories of false news about the refugees in Turkey, according to Gulin Cavus, editor-in-chief at teyit.org, a Turkish fact-checking an organization dedicated to preventing false information from spreading on the internet.
“The fake news regarding refugees is mostly related to criminal cases which are followed by claims that governments favor refugees and grant more privileges to them than to their citizens,” said Cavus. The editor said another persistent fake news category is “the Syrians can vote in Turkey” claim which pops back up with every election in the country.
As proved by teyit.org, another fake news item claimed people who share false video, photographs or news about the Syrians would be handed a prison sentence of up to three years in accordance with a regulation by the interior ministry.